Jo Ann Zimmerman, the first woman elected lieutenant governor and a long-time champion of progressive values in Iowa, has died

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Jo Ann McIntosh Zimmerman

Jo Ann McIntosh Zimmerman, the first woman elected lieutenant governor of Iowa, died on Tuesday evening, the Des Moines Register reported. She was 82.

A Democrat, Zimmerman was voted in as lieutenant governor in 1986, the same year Republican Terry Branstad was elected to his second term as governor. Although the office held little power, Zimmerman used her single term as lieutenant governor to advocate for progressive causes and for small farmers affected by the farm credit crisis of the 1980s, something she had personal experience with.

Shortly after Zimmerman was elected in 1986, a bank foreclosed on her Waukee home, because Zimmerman and her husband Tom were unable to keep up with payments on loans for their cattle farm, following the collapse of the agricultural economy of the Midwest. The couple had lived in their home for 22 years, and raised their five children there.

The legislature changed Iowa’s electoral laws after the 1986 election, creating the current system where the gubernatorial candidate selects the nominee for lieutenant governor.

Zimmerman ran for governor in 1990, but dropped out of the primary. In that year’s general election, Donald Avenson, the Democratic nominee for governor, selected her as his running mate. They lost to Branstad and Joy Corning (the first Republican woman elected lieutenant governor).

Before making history as lieutenant governor, Zimmerman served a term in the Iowa House of Representatives, where she was the first nurse to work in the chamber. She had also served on the Waukee school board.

Jo Ann McIntosh Zimmerman was born on Dec. 24, 1936 in southeastern Iowa’s Van Buren County. She attended Broadlawn School of Nursing, Drake University and Iowa State University.

Zimmerman remained active in politics after leaving office in 1991, co-founding DAWN, the Democratic Activist Women’s Network.

Zimmerman worked as a nurse and in a number of administrative positions at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines. She started the Health Ministry at the First Christian Church in Des Moines, which provides a variety of free medical services at the Drake Neighborhood Farmers Market.

In 2005, she was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame, which summarized Zimmerman’s career with a quote from John R. Kelly: “Her work…always reflected her concern for those who could not advocate for themselves.”

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  1. I lost a good friend and mentor, having worked for her in the statehouse when she was Representative of Dallas County. She was gentle, but firm in her convictions. I never met anyone else like her. She will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to all her family and friends.

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